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Mining the Future

Join this international competition and submit your ideas for applications that could turn rock excavated during tunnelling for future CERN colliders into a resource

Progress of surface and underground civil engineering works at HiLumi Point 1
Photo from the currently ongoing work for the HL-LHC upgrade of the LHC; building a new/future tunnel with a circumference of 100 km would generate about 9 million cubic metres of excavated materials, mainly molasse. (Image: CERN)

A key recommendation of last year’s update to the European Strategy for Particle Physics is that Europe, in collaboration with the worldwide community, should undertake a feasibility study for a next-generation hadron collider at the highest achievable energy, with an electron-positron collider as a possible first stage. As a result, the Future Circular Collider (FCC) Feasibility Study is committed to investigating the technical and financial viability of such a facility at CERN.

As part of this study, the EU-funded FCC Innovation Study (FCCIS) will deliver a design and implementation plan for the new research infrastructure, consisting of a circular tunnel with a circumference of 90 to 100 kilometres and eight to 12 surface sites.

The construction of the underground structures for the FCC would generate about 9 million cubic metres of excavated material – about three and a half times the Cheops pyramid. In line with the EU Circular Economy Action Plan and following the best practices adopted by both of CERN’s Host States (France and Switzerland), the FCC project calls for a strategic approach to the management of excavated materials.

The FCCIS is running the international competition “Mining the Future”, which takes up the challenge of turning the main excavation material, a soft sedimentary rock called molasse, into a resource.

This soft rock is commonly found around the Alps. Although it is frequently brought to the surface during construction projects, no relevant re-use case has been made to date. This represents an opportunity to bring together people from different domains to create value for society in the wake of the development of a new research infrastructure.

“If ‘Mining the Future’ identifies a suitable approach to use molasse, it will help the FCC feasibility study and be a valuable contribution to making construction projects in Europe more sustainable,” says Johannes Gutleber from CERN, who devised the competition.

Registration opens on 30 April 2021 and the deadline for submissions is 31 October. Proposed technologies and processes must have been demonstrated at laboratory scale before submission. This international contest is open to individuals, non-profit organisations such as universities and research centres, companies and consortia from any nation that is associated with the EU Horizon 2020 programme.

“We are proud to have a fine blend of international experts in our jury, covering a wide range of topics from material sciences to large-scale construction project management, economics, circular economy and lifecycle management,” says the organiser of the competition, Professor Robert Galler of the University of Leoben, Austria.

The winner will be awarded the financing and supply of services needed to advance the readiness of the proposed technology. Further information about the competition, guidelines and the online application form can be found at miningthefuture.web.cern.ch.